Olympics and equality

The Olympics and equality.


So we all know the news and have, to be fair, seen it coming for some time now. Women’s C1 has been introduced to the Olympic programme, Men’s K2 has been removed, Facebook and the like are on fire with heated debate and there is outrage and jubilation in equal measure.


It is easy to get carried along on an emotional wave with either of the subjects in the title to this piece but lets try to stick to facts where possible. I will find it difficult not to express my personal views also but there again I am as entitled to my view as anyone else is entitled to theirs.


Firstly lets look at how many of the canoeing family are actually affected by this decision in the UK. At the most we will have 1 women's C1 paddler who will get their shot at stardom in 6 years time, but the reality of the qualification process and the fact that we have yet to produce a male C1 paddler capable of qualifying since 1996 despite our vast funding so far, would suggest that it is more likely that the Olympic slots will go to the countries who have an established C1 coaching path in place already, primarily Canada and the old Eastern Bloc along with a bit of South America. So quite possibly no women in the UK will benefit from this decision. There will be two kayak men who will not go, but again in reality our current boat will probably not be around in 6 years time and to qualify anyone else in this event is a long shot at best. After all we also failed to qualify for most of the men's events in London. So again quite possibly no one will miss out who wasn’t already going to miss out anyway. The bright side of course is that the Performance Programme staff are totally unaffected, they can apply their skills to failing to qualify either entrant so there is no need to trim down on the overstaffed, underperforming behemoth.


So all in all, of the thousands of paddlesport participants in the UK there will be a maximum of three people directly affected by this decision but more likely the number will be closer to zero.


We are led to believe that without the Olympics we would not get funding for our sport in the UK, but ask yourself how much of the funding you actually benefit from anyway. Even the athletes on the programme don’t get a living wage until they become Olympic finalists or medal winners. Is your club any better off for the £20m ish funding our sport gets? Has the funding led to a huge increase in the uptake of the sport, or are we now constantly on the TV and gaining from the publicity our sport is generating since funding arrived? Are the coaches at your club now paid to spend more time there and get more education? Some are, but is the 8hrs per week they are paid for spread between as many clubs really a step forward or just a box ticking exercise to generate funds higher up the food chain?


The Olympics is a circus that feeds a few people (very well). We are told that it is the pinnacle of any athlete’s career. We are conditioned to value Olympic results above any other result, but then again we are told that the X-Factor is a great TV programme and that it is cool to wear your trousers half way down your arse! We do have the power of independent thought which we are allowed to use!


Take a step back and see the Olympics for what it actually is.


Every 4 years is the start point…so it partly comes down to chance almost immediately. Take the Mens K1 200m in London. Ed McKeever was a truly worthy winner but you can bet your life that Simeonowski from Poland was a little aggrieved that he was the reigning World Champion who didn’t get given the opportunity of Olympic success due to injury. Hell…..lets take the whole 200m event….it didn’t even exist as an Olympic event until 2010 and you didn’t hear Ed McKeever bleating about that being unfair! Ed is one of the first to admit that he was one of the luckiest men in the sport when the ICF made the decision to include 200m racing in London.


The Olympics has so many restrictions on its programme in terms of number of athletes, number of events, the need for worldwide participation etc etc that the competition is diluted dramatically from a standard World Championships. In the Mens C1 1000m in London there were people who qualified for the B Final who never even took a hard stroke in the qualification rounds. The fact is you or I could have reached that same B Final if we were LUCKY enough to be there. And yes I do mean lucky! Oh, sorry, you did of course have to be male to compete!


My point is that the Olympics is only the pinnacle of an athletes achievement if the competition there is pinnacle of competition and it isn’t. As soon as there are restrictions then the competition is diluted and the event loses its real value. We have to keep believing the Olympic Games is the real deal so that we remain the performing monkeys in a circus that earns a lot of people a lot of money but cares very little about us. If we were actually performing monkeys the animal rights brigade would have shut down the Olympic Circus a long time ago for abuse of its artists!


Actually in order to reach the pinnacle of your sporting career you do not need the validation of the Olympic audience, a group of people who know nothing about you or your sport and who are happy to be fed whatever diet of sport the media want to feed them. No, true self actualization comes when you know you performed to the best of your ability, this is backed up by other people who know what it takes to do what you did, your coach, the educated viewer, and your opposition. When you have self-respect and the respect of those you respect equally, then you have reached the pinnacle of your sporting career. This can be at club level, National level or International level and is actually open to everyone, kayaks, canoes, males and females. You may be able to make a living from an Olympic medal simply because the viewing public think it is special but it holds no more value than any other medal in terms of self respect. I know plenty of athletes who have gained the respect of their colleagues and competitors without ever winning a major medal or ever getting near an Olympic final. They have retired from their sport with their heads held high knowing they did the best they could. This may all sound very idealistic and romantic but it is true and it doesn’t take a genius to realize it. If our sport, any sport, were just about Olympic glory then there would be very few sportspeople in the world.


The Olympic family have long since given up on the Olympic ideals and sold out to the highest bidder. It is all about money and power. Even in my lifetime in the UK the number of support staff involved with the Olympic Team has gone from single, to double, and now into triple figures yet athlete numbers during the same period have dropped. The IOC dictate to the ICF how we should shape our sport and the ICF bow down so that they can keep their positions and reap the rewards. At what stage does it stop? When finances dictate, will we agree to have the public phone in and vote for who they want to see in the Final of the Women’s 200m? Taken to it’s extreme that is what could happen, in order to raise the most money we could see the person with the tightest shirt or the nicest hair voted through to the next round because it is proven to be the best way of milking the public purse and emptying it into the IOC coffers. Sounds like a joke, but think about it! At what point do we decide we no longer want a part of this humiliation?


I would also like to discuss the issue of equality. Equality is a seemingly simple concept; everyone has a ‘right’ to equal opportunity. No one thinks equality is a bad concept and heading in that direction is necessary. However how do you really quantify equality of opportunity? Two sexes=Two events….equality! Or is it? There are so many other ways of seeing the same picture.


Lets take a look at a few other scenarios.


In our sport there are without a doubt many more male participants than female worldwide. It is not just our sport that has this imbalance. I would argue it is most. Perhaps this is due to the male of the species feeling the need to compete more, it could be hormonal or instinctive. Probably the same reason why there are more male speeding fines or road rage incidents, who knows? But the fact remains there are more men than women in sport. Should it not be fair then that the number of events for each sex reflect this? If there are 10 times more males in a sport than females should there not be 10 times more events for them? Equality could be based on number of events per capita?


Possibly due to this simple numerical inequality there is also a difference in the depth of quality between the two sexes, especially in an underdeveloped sport like women’s canoe. At the Worlds last year the time difference between the first and last in the 200m final was 4 seconds. Should we then not allow the same in the Men’s 200m final? The same spread in time difference would include everyone right down to the end of the C final (plus several more who didn’t even make that) in order to reach true equality. Actually I think I might even make it on a good day! Equality based on the performance needed to make a final?


Is there going to be equality in the opportunity for qualifying for the Olympic Games? Will a male competitor aiming for a place in the K1 200m have an equal chance statistically as a female competing for a place in the C1 200m? I would think not. I would suggest that if you looked at it purely from a statistical viewpoint there would be more chance of me having a sex change and qualifying as a Women’s C1 paddler for Tokyo than there would be of me qualifying as a Mens K1. It is not an equal opportunity however you look at it. The opportunity for a woman to reach Tokyo is much greater than for a man. Equality in the opportunity to qualify for an Olympic Games?


You could argue that if there were more womens events then there would be more women taking part and get into a whole chicken and egg scenario, but wait! There has been equal opportunity in Marathon racing in kayaks for as long as the sport has been in the World Championship fold, yet there have always been less women than men competing. At last years Worlds there were as many as 10 men of a quality to argue their case for a possible win yet still only one winner. This was not the case in the women’s event, in fact if you counted down the top 10 finishers the time spread would have been  4 minutes 28 seconds. Top 10 in the men's were separated by 1min 29seconds. There is absolutely not the same opportunity for the men to win a Worlds medal as there is for the women. Should we give more medals to the men to balance this inequality?


In todays media driven world does a man who gets some arty topless or tight fitting T shirt photos done get the same exposure as a female who does the same? I would love to get a sponsorship deal based on my arty bikini shoot rather than my results but it just wouldn’t happen. A man may get a few more female admirers along with a few from a small subsection of the male population but his chances of gaining the all important media attention that leads to income is not the same as his female counterpart. He is at a distinct disadvantage. Equality of opportunity?


If we return to a previous argument higher up the article, will the Womens C1 200m Olympic Champion be held in the same regard as the Mens 1000m champion by the paddling world?….Probably not. Unless of course she performs at such a level that she deserves equal respect in which case that will be recognized and given. Does the viewing public know the difference….no; but then again does that matter to any of us except the winner? Equality in respect deserved?


Equality, you see, is whatever you want it to be. All these scenarios are just illustrations of a point, some may be flippant others less so. For my kids the issue of equality is fought out every time we have to divide a biscuit or cake! The cries of “Not fair” seem slightly more acceptable from a 6 year old! Life can be unfair and to be brutally honest the only true equality is that life is unfair for all of us, if we perceive it to be! Shit..we are here arguing over events in an Olympic Games whilst someone somewhere is trying to find enough food to live on! Equality of opportunity?


You can tell me that none of this matters because we needed to make the changes we made to stay in the Olympic Games, you may be right, but I would argue with you that the Olympic Games is a sideshow distraction from the real beauty of our sport and we should have enough self respect to not let the tail wag the dog!


So we have complied with some sort of notional equality and will, in the fullness of time, find out if it has been the best or worst thing we could have done for our sport. I for one don’t know.


From my personal point of view I think we should have kept men's K2 200 simply based on the fact that it is the fastest race we have, to the knowledge free spectator that is all that matters, and if we are honest it is exactly that spectator that we need to impress to stay involved with the Olympics (if that remains the goal). Will women's C1 provide the same spectacle? ………well…. lets just hope there is not a strong crosswind in Tokyo!!






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